• maelstrom •
Pronunciation: mayl-strêm • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A violent, turbulent, and confused situation. 2. A large, powerful whirlpool
Notes: There are two potential pitfalls in the spelling of this word. First, be sure to keep the A and E on the same side of the L. The second thing to remember is that the second element is -strom, not storm, spelled the same as it is in Bergstrom and Nordstrom. (A malestorm is a wholly different matter.)
In Play: Today's Good Word is normally used in its figurative sense: "As soon as she moved, Maud Lynn Dresser threw herself into the maelstrom of parties, soirees, theater, and the balls that comprised high society in New Monia." The media are often the cause of such maelstroms: "The O. J. Simpson trial was held amidst a media maelstrom." However, the literal meaning survives: "Creighton Shippet's boat capsized in a maelstrom at sea."
Word History: This word is the descriptive name of a famous whirlpool off the west coast of Norway. In Middle Dutch it was spelled identically with the English maelstrom; in Modern Dutch it is maalstroom. The name was used by Dutch cartographers, including Mercator on his maps from 1595. This word originally meant "grinding-stream", from malen "to grind" + strom "stream", a name no doubt inspired by the whirlpool's spinning like a mill. The first of these two words is related to English mill, the greatest of all grinders, and the product of a mill, meal. Strom, of course, is cousin to English stream. (Today we have to thank Miriam Webster for suggesting today's Good if stormy Word. The name "Creighton Shippet" is due Dee Smith.)